Baseball Hall of Fame: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens face best chance at Cooperstown on 2021 ballot
The clock is ticking on Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
The two controversial, alleged PED users will enter their ninth year on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot as voting commences for the class of 2021, and voting has been unkind to them over the last few years. While both players were clear, far and away Hall of Fame talents, the whispers of steroid use has clouded their legacies and could have them out of the Hall of Fame entirely.
But the 2021 Hall of Fame ballot could prove to be a benefit for both: With the field for first-time and returning players fairly thin and very debatable, the upcoming class of Cooperstown denizens could feature names like Bonds and Clemens after all.
Aside from that, there’s the candidacy of a few intriguing, returning players who will be given a stronger, longer look by the BBWAA during the process.
Here’s an early look at some of the more intriguing names on the 2021 Hall of Fame ballot.
The candidacy of Bonds and Clemens
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are both entering Year 9 on the ballot, and time is running out, considering the 10-year limit for players on the ballot. But given how light the 2021 ballot is going to be on surefire, first-ballot Hall of Famers — really, there aren’t any — then maybe voters looking to fill out their 10-vote ballot could give them a fair shake.
While Bonds and Clemens are still unsure things for election, they’ve gained a decent amount of momentum in recent years. In 2016, Bonds finished with 45.3 percent of the vote while Clemens finished with 46 percent. Since then, both players have been on a steady ascent but have yet to surpass the 60 percent mark, but they are inching closer. It’s going to take a change in voter mindsets to make that happen.
A lot of it boils down to how you feel about the baseball’s “use” of the Hall of Fame. Along with statistics and accomplishments, there’s a simple question that should be asked, too: Can you tell the story of baseball without including the player? For both Bonds and Clemens, arguably the greatest players at their respective positions in baseball history, you just can’t.
Baseball has, historically, been impure. If we continue to try and whitewash its history, then we’ll learn nothing and teach nothing in the process.
Curt Schilling’s last hurrah?
Schilling isn’t in the Hall of Fame for … reasons. Semi-specifically, more of those reasons are for off-the-field stuff than on, and post-retirement, at that.
Schilling has 79.8 fWAR for his career, 3.46 ERA/3.23 FIP, 3,116 strikeouts and finished top five in Cy Young voting three times, with two No. 2 finishes. His numbers say he should be in the Hall of Fame already. Some knock him for being a “compiler,” but durability for a starting pitcher shouldn’t be a detriment.
Schilling will also be in his ninth year on the ballot, and has been gaining votes over the past four years. He’s a three-time World Series winner and has one World Series MVP, for his 2001 performance with the Diamondbacks, upending the Yankees in the Fall Classic. It seems like voters have been more open to keeping Schilling around on the ballot — the longer he stays out of the public eye.
Mark Buehrle: Buehrle is a better pitcher than you probably remember. He’s got 60.1 bWAR in his career, but the strikeouts, ERA and FIP numbers aren’t really Hall of Fame levels. He does have a perfect game and a no-hitter on his resume, so he’s got that going for him.
A.J. Burnett: Burnett was one of baseball’s more electrifying pitchers when he was on. The problem is, he was off more than he was on. He has more than 2,500 career strikeouts, but also gave up 263 home runs in his career, almost one per every nine innings.
Michael Cuddyer: “Cuddy” was a stalwart in the outfield for the Twins for a long time, but his below-average defensive abilities and lack of true offensive prowess will leave him on the outside looking in.
Torii Hunter: Hunter was a dazzling center fielder, known for his highlight-reel catches. Overall, though, Hunter was an inconsistent outfielder according to DRS (19 per Fangraphs). He had very good power, hitting 353 home runs in his career, with his wRC+ dipping below 100 just one time between 2001 and 2014. Hunter is an interesting case, but he likely won’t make it in — at least, not on the first ballot.
Tim Hudson: Hudson is going to be a hotly contested name come voting season later this year. He was a very good to great pitcher during his career, but he doesn’t hit any of the “magic numbers” for pitchers, if you find value in that sort of thing. He has 222 career wins, 2,080 strikeouts and finished top five in Cy Young voting twice. He’s another candidate for the Hall of Great.
Nick Swisher: Swisher belongs in a Hall of Fame somewhere for being an exciteable, fan-favorite player. His best years were with the Yankees between 2009 and 2012, but he simply doesn’t have the resume to get in.
Barry Zito: Another third of that legendary early 2000s A’s starting pitching trio, Zito’s career was enigmatic at best. Known for his devastating 12-to-6 curveball, he won the 2002 Cy Young award as part of the “Moneyball” A’s (a convenient omission from the movie), and was one of the better starters in the AL over the next few seasons. The second part of Zito’s career, pitching with the Giants between 2007 and 2013, was less kind: He pitched to a 4.62 ERA across the bay with an 87 ERA+.
Intriguing names returning to the ballot in 2021
Billy Wagner was about as dominating as a reliever gets. Despite not having the saves or track record of Mariano Rivera, Wagner had 1,196 strikeouts in his career (excluding postseason). That’s only 23 more than Mariano Rivera, but Wagner did it in 380 fewer innings. He should get more consideration moving forward.
Here’s a list of players who have 300-plus home runs and 200-plus defensive runs saved in their career: Adrian Beltre and Andruw Jones. That’s it. That’s the list. Jones might not have had the longevity of other players, but he deserves more love on the ballot than he’s gotten; he was one of the best two-way players the league saw in the ’90s and early 2000s, and maybe ever.
With 60 bWAR in his career, Bobby Abreu was a very good player for a long time. He had a keen eye at the plate going by his .395 career OBP and was a decent fielder to boot. He’s another candidate for the Hall of Great, but maybe not the greatest.
Todd Helton will be a name to watch over the coming years. Helton was a dominant offensive player for Colorado for 17 years, and was also a very good defensive first baseman. The back end of his career was marred by injuries, but Helton has a shot the longer he stays on the ballot.
Scott Rolen was a superb defender in his career, amassing 175 DRS per Baseball Reference. Only one other third baseman in the Hall of Fame has over 100 DRS, and that’s Mike Schmidt. Rolen was an excellent all-around player in his career and deserves a longer look from voters.
Andy Pettitte has over a full season’s worth of starts (44) in postseason games. 2021 will be his third year on the ballot, but his case is a complex one. Pitching during the height of the Steroid Era, Pettitte had a career 3.85 ERA (3.74 FIP) in 18 big-league seasons. It feels like Pettitte will be destined to hang around on the ballot until his 10th year.
There are 27 players who are members of the 500 home run club. Eighteen of those players are in the Hall of Fame. Three of them are currently on the ballot, and will be in 2021: Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez. No surprise there that all three have been linked to PEDs at some point.
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